ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: How a Young, Sweaty Zach Braff Got His Big Break

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04 Jun 2014

Patti LuPone in <i>Anything Goes</i>
Patti LuPone in Anything Goes
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.


Hello from Delta flight 1748, Detroit to LaGuardia. Last night I did a Broadway @ show with Patti LuPone at the Berman Center, and it went great! I had her sing so many of my faves: "Come To the Supermarket In Old Peking," "Buenos Aires," "Trouble" (from The Music Man) and "Grin and Bear It" which is a song written for "Smash" that I heard her sing at the Carnegie Hall salute to Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

I also had her do "Anything Goes" (obsessed with her last high D) and before she sang, she told us that a few days before she auditioned for the 1988 production, she was getting her picture taken. She told the photographer about her upcoming audition and he gave her the last professional photo taken of Ethel Merman! Ethel was sporting a huge smile and her hands were framing her face, a la Judy Garland. Patti went to her audition and was asked to do the first Reno Sweeney scene. She turned her back and when she whipped around to face the audience for her first line ("Billy! Billy Crocker!") she put the enormous photo of Ethel over her face!

I love the image of director Jerry Zaks sitting in the audience and hearing Patti yelling Reno's lines from behind Ethel's mug. So bizarrely funny. Spoiler alert: She got the gig. By the by, when I say, "I had her sing such-and-such," I'm serious! Patti likes to be surprised by what songs I choose and she doesn't know what she's going to sing until I start playing the intro! If you've never seen the kind of show I do with her, get thee to SethTV.com/patti. It's an entire concert where she sings so many amazing songs including "As Long As He Needs Me," "Meadowlark" and "Rainbow High" from Evita!

Norm Lewis

And now let us discuss Norm Lewis. I met Norm back in 1989, right after college. Norm had just moved to New York and was non-equity and I was music directing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. To this day, I remember his audition for various reasons. First, he chose to sing "Before The Parade Passes By," which is a woman's song. I gave him a brava because I thought it was a bold choice. However, he had just done ensemble in the show and the music he handed me to play was the full ensemble part. In other words, instead of seeing the melody in front of me like normal sheet music, I saw music divided into soprano, alto, tenor and bass. Instead of a playing for a person's audition, I felt like I was having a music brush-up rehearsal for the ensemble. But then he sang and I loved it. You would have loved it if you had heard it. And you can! He put that song on his CD (!) and I deconstruct it here

He was, of course, cast in the show and we've worked together many times since then; the following summer when he was in the ensemble of My Fair Lady, the Hearts and Voices hospital shows I do for patients with AIDS, the very first month I did "Seth's Broadway Chatterbox" back in 1999, the Playbill Cruise, the Actors Fund Dreamgirls, Chess and Hair concerts and tons more. My point is, we've been working ever since the beginning of our professional careers. So, when I went to see him starring in The Phantom of the Opera and heard his distinctive voice on the title song, it's no surprise that I immediately felt my eyes fill with tears. I was so, so proud of him. And he sounds so amazing! You have to, have to, have to see him play this role. It's such a perfect match vocally because he's always had a combination of an operatic/pop voice and the title song is operatic yet has electric 80's pop drums... literally the same combination!


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